Kamala Harris to Visit the Southern Border for First Time after Biden Tasked Her with Immigration

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Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Vice President Kamala Harris

The White House says Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the southern border in El Paso, Texas, on Friday, three months after she said she'd "absolutely" travel there to check in on its conditions.

While the administration has faced mounting scrutiny over its approach to the persistently thorny issue, Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday that Harris, 56, was waiting to schedule the long-anticipated visit "when it was the right time."

Psaki said the goal is "to continue to address the root causes" of migration in Central America.

Harris' Friday trip will be the first by her or President Joe Biden since the latest steep increase in the number of migrants arriving at the southern border. Many of them traveled from Central America and some sought asylum.

Earlier this month, Harris traveled to Guatemala and Mexico to meet with those countries' presidents to discuss issues like economic and social inequalities in Central America. In many cases, migration experts say, such issues are accelerated by extreme weather events caused by climate change, forcing people to relocate.

The latest in a cycle of migration increases stretching back multiple presidents has fueled what both the Biden administration and its critics call a "crisis," with border officials saying they were overwhelmed.

Advocates have called for reforms, decrying the detention-like facilities where many migrants have been held while seeking new opportunities in the U.S.

Conservatives have called for stricter immigration policies, saying Biden is too lax and welcoming.

In March, Biden, 78, said Harris would lead the administration's efforts to address migration to the southern border.

Both Biden and Harris have explicitly told migrants "do not come," as U.S. officials scrambled to accommodate tens of thousands of people arriving at the border hoping to be accepted through the country's arcane and slow-moving system.

A Harris spokeswoman did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for further details about the vice president's visit.

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CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Border Patrol facility

Though Biden had campaigned on reversing President Donald Trump's divisive "zero tolerance" immigration policies, his White House faced its own criticisms for how they handled the increase in migration - particularly for the treatment of unaccompanied children.

Hours after taking office, Biden erased some of Trump's widely criticized decisions and vowed to reunite kids who were separated from their families during the last presidency.

"I'm not making new law, I'm eliminating bad policy," Biden told reporters in January.

Earlier this year, Psaki, 42, went a step further by calling the Trump administration's policies "immoral and inhumane."

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But as historic numbers of children arrived at the border early in Biden's presidency - including a record-breaking 18,960 unaccompanied children in March - critics said not much had changed, as photos showed kids being held in overcrowded facilities well-past the 72-hour limit they are allowed to be kept there.

"These systems that exist are wrong," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading progressive, said in March. "They're wrong. These are facilities that are designed the way our carceral facilities are designed."

The White House was also criticized for a lack of transparency after not allowing journalists to visit the border facilities for weeks on end earlier in the year.

Hector Vivas/Getty Kamala Harris

Migrant children are supposed to be transferred from border patrol custody to more accommodating facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services within three days, where they are then partnered with sponsor families or their own family members already living in the U.S. while they await the immigration process.

Officials said the number of children being held at border patrol facilities dropped 88 percent between March and late April.

On Wednesday, a Health and Human Services spokesperson told PEOPLE and other media outlets there are now less than 15,000 children in its care, down from about 23,000 in April.

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However, criticism for the Biden administration's handling of the "crisis" is still ringing throughout conservative circles, where many have honed in on Harris and the border.

News of her visit comes days after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced his intentions to crowd-fund construction of a wall at the state's border with Mexico, an unusual step that's so far raised nearly half a million dollars in private donations.

Former President Trump also recently announced plans to visit the border next week alongside Abbott, one of his fiercest political allies, along with a group of Republicans from the House of Representatives.